Building A Sustainable And Innovative Organization In South America

As soon as I settled down in Colombia in 2016,  I started to work for a commercial business that sells materials for architectural projects. Furthermore there is a foam factory for the production of customized mattresses and furniture. As soon as I understood the big picture I recognized the huge potential. In this blog post I want to tell you about some interesting checkpoints of this project! Read how and why we initiated a Lean Change Process to get this Company ready for the next decade!

Motivation: Building a sustainable and fast moving organization

When I joined the company I started from the scratch by chatting with almost everbody. I recognized that the organization needed help to be prepared for the upcoming decade. The setup of the current CEO was excellent and I told him that if we want to be prepared for the new market we needed to think in 2 big challenges: Digital Transformation and a Lean Change Management in order to survive this transformation.

The meaning of these terms were pretty unclear for him and the rest of the teams. This gave me the motivation to point out the importance of a lean change process and why this would give us the opportunity to be an innovative and game-changing element in the Colombian market. So we started to communicate our ideas to all store managers:

It’s time for a change

In a relaxed moment I asked the team why we are here for. What’s the purpose of our Organization and where are we going? There were some fuzzy arguments and we realized that we needed a clear vision that would guide us. Actually it wasn’t so hard to come up with it as we just focused on what the company has done in the last 35 years: We want our customers´ projects become true

Another crucial point was the technology. We saw that many steps and processes were done manually. On top we had no concrete data about our own business. From my point of view this was fatal and even dangerous.

As I’ve worked for many start-ups and medium-sized companies in Germany and Switzerland, I knew that one of the reasons why some companies reached a high level of efficiency was due to the technology they used. This gave them insights into their data, and obviously the necessary automation and flexibility that was needed to be fast, agile and innovative.

Related books you may like:
1 Lean Change Managment: Innovative Practices For Managing Organizational Change
Jason Little
2 Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team
Jurgen Appelo
3 Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders
Jurgen Appelo

There’s never been a more important time for us to invest into a technological and agile transformation. We believe that in less than 5 years every company in Colombia needs to have a strong technological fundament in order to be a leading element in the market.

I started to set up a small, young and motivated team. Together we checked all the possible software solutions in the market. We found an open source software that would give us a basic setup on what we could build on. That’s the point where we started to organize the implementation of a totally new technology that would kick us into a totally new generation.

We had 3 challenges:

  • We had to think about a Coaching Strategy (Teaching and coaching more than 70 people, distributed all over Colombia)
  • We had to think about an Agile Software Development setup to make life of the store managers every day a little bit easier and happier.
  • Analyze old information architectures and manage the migration to a new cloud based ERP Software so that marketing, accounting and HR can make their job efficient.

Transforming the organization and market

We wanted to implement an All-In-One Software. That doesn’t sound really new or innovative, BUT here is the difference to many other Colombian companies that are building software: We are building free components where our customers and employees are in the focus. That means we are developing absolutely user focused and open sourced our code base with the idea to catch the markets attention in order to improve code quality and to promote a free ERP solution that can work for every business in the country.

We hired software developers all over Colombia. We were working with remote engineers, having a strong network that gives us the opportunity to have an extremely strong communication channel at every time.

Our technical solution

Our software is based on an open source All-In-One Application which can be used by everyone who has basic tech knowledge. The problem is that no Colombian Company can use it out of the box as the local tax authorities have special requirements regarding taxes and reports. We had to break free this barrier first.

We were building modules that gave every single Organization in Colombia the chance to run their business with only ONE piece of Software which will easily give them all kind of tools, reports and figures that they need: Accounting, Inventory, Sales Chances, Purchases, Payroll and much more. All these data can be checked in real time. Secure and accessible from everywhere!

That means we are developing a 100% free localization on top of an open source system. We wanted people to use our solution to get feedback and to made it even better so that more and more people got convinced about it.

We believe that (new) local companies need more possibilities and chances to grow faster. That’s why we think that this country needs a fast and simple solution. Not because to generate legal reports, but also figures for their own use in order to keep up with the strong competition. Check out the whole software project on GitHub:

Just a small overview on how our infrastructure works:

We don’t want to sell our code. That doesn’t fit into our business model. We think that the more people use our modules, the more quality we gain by taking the users’ feedback serious. This solution can be used by a supermarket, a restaurant or any other kind of business in Colombia.

We strongly believe that with this mindset we can make a difference in the market. There are many great developers in Colombia who can help us to push this software forward to make it even better than SAP or similar software that costs too much money for medium-sized organizations.

14 point of sales are up and running with our new system which delivers data and insights in real time:

Our Dashboard: Showing us information in real time

We know at every moment which product performs best and which point of sales is the one that performs most. We have insights into our data from all over the world what gives us the flexibility to react fast and agile in the market. We implemented an alerting system that checks our defined metrics constantly, what gives us the chance to improve data quality.

We can create stable and solid tax reports for the tax authorities within minutes what saves us a hell lot of time: Our cloud based system is up and running with a great performance.

How do we implement this software into our teams?

One of the most important challenges in technological transformations is influencing the current culture. Culture is more than making ceremonies or creating new roles.
We realized pretty fast that we needed to teach and coach our employees in order to feed the system with correct and trustful data. We think that software and humans are two separate topics. We knew this from the beginning and so we focused on another important aspect: Lean Change Management. That means we thought about lean processes to get our teams fit for the future:

We introduced every week a new functionality to our teams and managers. We organized workshops and wrote applicable step-by-step guides that helped every individual to work with the new system. We even published articles about our workshops and progress in my blog:

How To Improve Teamwork In One Easy Lesson

Here you can see an article on how we started to explain on how we gonna proceed with the upcoming changes and software:

What I want to underline: Software and humans must work together in harmony. That’s why we believe that even though a Software might be excellent and almost perfect, it doesn’t work out if you don’t trust your employees and if you don’t have a plan on how to teach and coach them:

teaching and coaching our employees

Our success confirms our theory: Our system works because we had a lean plan of implementation. We had no long term plans. We just reacted on everything we’ve learned on a daily basis. That’s how we made our employees happy!

Come and visit us!

From the beginning we wanted to create more transparency within our organization. Our employees now have access to much more information and with their autonomy they can react and do better work for the entire organization and our customers.

We want to invite everybody to see how we work. As we share our code and experience we think that our solution has even a social impact because it helps many companies to start faster and stronger.

We would love to hear your ideas, suggestions or comments! Don’t hesitate to drop your comment below. We will answer all of them!

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